Make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy is primed for success in 2020 and beyond.
Here, you’ll find:
- Quick wins for optimizing your website
- The must-have elements of quality content
- The latest Google developments to leverage
- SEO best practices & trends to keep an eye on
It’s like the age-old saying goes: An SEO pro’s work is never done.
OK, so maybe we made that up, but the sentiment holds true. With the ever-changing algorithm and advances in tech, optimizing your website for search engine results is (and should be) an ongoing process.
The good news? There are SEO best practices you can start putting into place now that’ll set you up for success months and even years down the road. These methods will not only help ensure you’ve got top-notch SEO, but they’ll add value to your overall brand while helping illustrate to prospects and users that your company is one they can trust.
SEO includes both on-page (elements on your own website) and off-page (which comprises things like backlinks and social media) optimization. While you have more control over your on-page SEO, there are things you can do for both categories to ensure your site is getting as much exposure as possible.
Let’s dive in.
1. Plan for regular “wellness checks”
There are multiple factors that go into making sure your site is optimized for the search engine results page (SERP). That’s why it’s a good idea to give your website a “wellness check” once a year at least.
As we’ve mentioned before, you can seek out a website grader tool that’ll instantly tell you how your site’s SEO stacks up.
During this SEO wellness check, you’ll want to check for things like:
- Page titles (ideally 70 characters or less)
- A site map for easy navigation
- Relevant meta descriptions (ideally 300 characters or less)
- Headings and subheadings on blogs and other pages
- Dead-end pages (broken links that route to empty 404 pages)
There are other technical elements of your site that can affect SEO. Things like page load speeds, your domain’s security (especially if people log in or are asked to submit their info on places like landing pages), and compressed media files all go into managing a top-notch site.
2. Conduct a content audit
There’s no single “right” way to conduct a content audit. The aim of this practice is to analyze your content. With an audit, you can identify old posts, high-performing pieces, duplicate content, and everything in between.
Creating a spreadsheet is the easiest way to conduct an organized content audit. This spreadsheet should have categories for:
- Content title
- Content type
- Date published
- Meta description
- Word count
You can uncover lots of insightful SEO data through this type of audit. It’ll show you which content could use a refresh, which pieces need to be optimized, any duplicate content that could hurt your SERP ranking, and which pieces aren’t getting you any traffic whatsoever. This will also help you identify top traffic drivers that you’ll want to work to expand upon or replicate.
If you have a high volume of content (and not a lot of time to gather this info manually), you can use Google Analytics or SEMRush to help you gather the URLs and other info you need to perform the audit.
Pro tip: A content audit can also help identify topic gaps you can fill via new content. Which topics related to your business have you not covered? Which related topics are your competitors outranking you for? Often, these chosen topics relate to the products or services your business offers. Narrow them down, then use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to determine the popularity and competition for these keywords.
3. Create (or update) your content strategy
The best content strategy is one that’s not set in stone. Here’s why: The more you create content, the more data you can gather, the more topics you can cover, and the more opportunity you have to optimize your site for search engines.
Your content strategy serves as a high-level look at your content goals and how you plan to achieve them. Plus, it’s one of the most effective SEO best practices you can adopt.
Whether you create a doc, a slideshow, or go old-school with pen and paper, your content strategy should include:
- Key performance indicators
- Target personas
- Creation process
Your strategy could also map out how often you plan to publish content. Some content strategies even include content creation checklists to ensure each published piece is optimized before it goes live.
Optimized content has elements such as:
- Title tags
- Internal and external links
- Meta descriptions
- Sentences and paragraphs that are easy to digest
- Images with alt text
4. Prioritize E-A-T
These days, Google’s algorithm is all about authenticity. These parameters have been dubbed this E-A-T: expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. The sites with credible content created by trustworthy authors move up in the rankings, while those without the right credentials get left in the dust.
By providing proper attribution — say, giving the blog writer a byline at the top of the post and a photo with a short bio at the bottom — you can effectively illustrate why this person is the authority on whatever topic they’re writing about.
When it comes to trustworthiness, ask yourself if your overall site looks trustworthy, if there are quality backlinks related to this topic, and whether or not the reader has a reason to trust that the author knows what they’re talking about. If you answer “yes” to all, then you’ll know you’re covered.
5. Embrace video content
Video is fast becoming a highly effective content tool, and it’s a great way to increase page time and boost engagement. TechCrunch reports that, by 2021, a whopping 82 percent of all consumer IP traffic will be video.
But once your video content is good to go, don’t forget to optimize it. You can optimize your videos by following SEO best practices such as:
- Choosing an engaging thumbnail image
- Creating a thoughtful title and meta description
- Optimizing the page the video is hosted on
- Investing in paid ads for promotion
- Including captions within your video
6. Prioritize mobile-first indexing
The masterminds at Google rolled out mobile-first indexing in the spring of 2018. Before this, Google was crawling and ranking the desktop version of a website.
But with the increasing rate at which people are searching for things on their cellphones, it became clear that using the mobile version would be the best way to help the majority of their users ensure they’re getting the best results.
So, what does this mean for you? Your site has to look sharp on mobile to rank well. That means no wonky formatting, no slow page loads, and no weird margins that make reading or scrolling nearly impossible.
Do a spot check on your pages by pulling them up on your mobile device to see how they’re rendering. If you don’t have a mobile-responsive site, it will continue to pull your desktop version, but this leaves you more prone to a sub-par user experience and search engine results page (SERP) ranking.
7. Make sure your site is up to speed
Speed is a vital part of following SEO best practices. Even though research shows that people will bounce from a site within about 10 seconds or so if you don’t catch their attention, many sites still suffer from slow page-load times.
Images and video are two features that can affect page speed since these tend to be larger files. More — and larger — files mean more HTTP requests, which means more load time.
Make sure the files you’re uploading aren’t bigger than necessary (they don’t need to be magazine-quality high-res photos to look good on your site). And consider enabling compression, so your files are compressed (aka smaller) and take less time to load.
Enabling browser caching can also help, as this means the page isn’t loading completely from scratch each time it’s visited.
8. Don’t underestimate good visuals
Visuals don’t just catch the reader’s eye — they help bring your content to life. Our experts recommend using at least two images per blog post, whether that means photographs, well-designed infographics, or something else.
But don’t just slap a couple of free stock images into your copy and call it a day. The images you choose should make sense for the topic you’re covering, and the look should feel in line with your brand, even if you’re using stock imagery.
By now, you probably know what’s coming next: optimizing!
Once you’ve found some high-quality photos and compressed them to the proper size to keep your page speedy and your formatting on point, make sure to include proper alt text that corresponds to the image. This is what will show up if someone has images disabled on their device, or potentially if they hover their mouse over the image. Data also shows that images with descriptive captions perform even better.
9. Monitor your reviews
Brand sentiment is part of what the algorithm takes into consideration — not only for Google but for other review sites like Facebook as well. Because of this, it’s important to keep a close eye on your reviews across various sites, and even consider setting up alerts so you’re notified daily or as soon as a new one hits.
Negative reviews should be publicly addressed, if possible, as long as the comment seems authentic and not like spam (you should be able to tell the difference). Do what you can to turn this disgruntled customer’s opinion around — it could be as easy as:
- Offering a refund
- Getting them on the phone with a customer service rep to sort out an issue
- Talking to them when they’re less fired up, reminding them there are people behind your brand
- Apologizing for a miscommunication, misunderstanding or mixup, which could result in the person deleting their negative review entirely
But don’t just respond to the negative reviews — SEO best practices suggest acknowledging and thanking someone for a positive review makes your happy client feel seen and valued. And, as we know, word of mouth is one of the most effective marketing tools around.
10. Keep featured snippets in mind
It seems like featured snippets (also known as answer boxes) are all the rage in SEO these days. Featured snippets are usually found in the space between paid search ads and ranked results, sometimes accompanied by an image or video.
Featured snippets are a SERP feature that often shows up when someone asks a question in the search box — the snippet result usually includes what the algorithm deems the most relevant answer.
Similarly, Google’s Knowledge Graph panel boxes will often appear on the SERP when you search for people, places, and things. It can be tough to get a featured snippet or knowledge panel spot, so see what those who land those spots are doing and how you can emulate them in a way that makes sense for your business.
11. Look into structured data
Google, Bing, Yahoo!, and Yandex banded together to create a structured data language called Schema that helps search engines understand what a post is about.
Schema is a type of vocabulary with tags you can add to the HTML markup of your web pages and emails. One of the biggest benefits to Schema is that it can enhance the snippets that appear below your page title on the SERP. It allows you to add enriching content like a publish date or rating, rather than simply the meta description.
12. Own and manage your backlinks
Oh, backlinks — so valuable and yet so elusive. While there’s no real shortcut to getting quality backlinks, by putting in the work, it’s still possible to begin seeing SEO-boosting results. The first step is to measure up your site’s current backlinks, then compare the results with those of your competitors.
Sites that will link to your competitors are likely to link to you as well — if your content is optimized, high-quality, and relevant (it’s also a good idea to link to relevant, high-authority sites). When reaching out about backlink opportunities, it’s key to prioritize personalization, show the value you’re offering, and focus on building a relationship with this business, not just asking for a favor out of the blue.
There’s no secret to getting good quality backlinks, but some ways you can encourage backlinks to your site include:
- Publishing unique stats, research, or findings
- Guest blogging on other sites
- Leveraging industry influencers
- Reaching out to sites with directories (like a site’s resources page)
Take things to the next level by partnering with other high-authority brands upfront during the creation process — they’ll feel more involved and may be more likely to link to the post once it’s live.
13. Stay in the SEO best practices loop
The rules surrounding SEO best practices are ever-evolving. Because of that, keeping up with the latest updates and changes can seem like its own full-time job. That’s where an SEO newsletter comes in. Instead of taking the time to research, you can work smarter (not harder) and let the latest news come straight to your inbox instead.
There are plenty of SEO newsletters to choose from, and you may even be able to find one that applies specifically to your industry. Moz Top 10 is a popular newsletter that sends out the 10 most valuable pieces of SEO content every two weeks. The newsletters from Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal are worth subscribing to as well. (P.S. Hawk has one, too!)
14. Keep an eye on voice search
Forbes predicted that voice search would encompass half of all online searches by 2020. The appeal of being able to search without using a screen is understandable — you can get answers and find information while doing other activities like cooking or driving.
The concept isn’t new, but household technology devices like Google Home have taken the trend to a whole new level.
Optimizing your site for voice search is a whole ‘nother ball game — but it can be done. Along with ensuring it loads quickly, you can optimize for voice search by:
- Making sure your site is mobile responsive
- Including longtail, natural-sounding keywords
- Prioritizing featured snippets
- Keeping copy concise and digestible
- Having strong local SEO (like a thorough and accurate Google My Business Page)
While the voice-search space is still developing, early results show that prioritizing this search type can yield better brand awareness, revenue, and more.
15. Track your progress
Having goals is only half the battle — you also need to be tracking your progress. This keeps you on the right path and can shine a light on how and when you should be iterating your processes.
Keep an eye on your monthly ranking status and any new backlinks you accrue. This also allows you to quickly see when to disavow links that might be spam, which can hurt your SEO status. Disavowing a link basically tells Google to ignore the link in connection to your site.
You can even monitor website speed as you add new content. Being able to evaluate your progress and efforts is key to your SEO success.
The algorithm’s goal is to help people find answers and resources they need. By implementing the above SEO best practices, not only will your site become easier to find, but you’ll be able to better connect with users and customers who can benefit from what you have to offer.
Whether you’re fine-tuning your current strategy or starting from scratch, now is a great time to assess your goals, evaluate your current practices, and implement a stellar SEO plan.
Want even more expert tips to up your SEO game? Let’s chat.
This article has been updated and was originally published in September 2019.